Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Ola senior quarterback C.J. Carr looks forward to more opportunities to make plays with his feet this season as the Mustangs have tweaked their offensive attack.
Ola at a glance
Last Year: 2-8
Summer progress: Simply stated: Depth. The Mustangs bring back 19 total starters from a 2011 team that stayed competitive in half of the games they lost. Kovzel believes that last year’s inexperienced sophomores will play like veterans as juniors.
Work to do: Kovzel said the depth of his program, despite it being a good thing, has also presented a challenge for his coaching staff to determine how to best plug in his group of emerging talent.
Emerging players: Kovzel believes that wide receiver JoJo Spann, quarterback C.J. Carr and senior defensive end/tight end/linebacker Jimmy Carman are poised for breakout seasons. But even more, Kovzel said his entire offensive line — much maligned last season — should emerge as a team strength in 2012.
Hard work and dedication.
It may sound like coachspeak for some, but for Ola head coach John Kovzel those two concepts could spell the beginning of a long-awaited level of football success.
“We’ve had the best spring we’ve ever had since I’ve been here in terms of kids really working and competing for jobs,” Kovzel said. “We’re going to be able to rotate a lot of kids this year.”
With nine starters returning on offense, including quarterback C.J. Carr and three-year starter at wide receiver JoJo Spann, along with 10 starters coming back on defense, Kovzel believes his Mustangs are finally ready to make a step into uncharted territory.
“We want to make the playoffs this year, I’m not going to lie about it,” said Kovzel, in his fifth year of leading a seven-year old Ola program void of a winning record. “Bottom line, that’s our goal here. We want to break some records around here.”
And if at the end of the season Ola is able to celebrate a new chapter in its program’s history, it will have an offseason of unprecedented rigor to thank.
“Our guys have donated more time to getting better and stronger than any other group I’ve had here,” Kovzel said.
Some of that was made possible with the addition of the school’s second weight room. The addition made it possible for Kovzel to efficiently work out his players at once instead of having to stagger the amount of players and the available time that they could lift.
The coach said the added flexibility granted him the chance to increase time spent on speed, agility and cardio work. Up-tempo practices have become the norm as well.
And the players are not complaining.
“We’ve been working so hard this year and Coach is putting a lot of time in on us,” senior quarterback C.J. Carr said. “It’s just been our work ethic. It started after the last game of the season. We all just said next year we were going to get on it and everybody’s looking to get better.”
The Mustangs have battled the injury bug some this offseason. Versatile senior defensive lineman/linebacker Jimmy Carman sat out of a Tuesday practice nursing a wrist injury, but he said he’d be ready to go again by Monday.
Also senior offensive linemen Jacob Partridge “will be out until mid September,” Kovzel said.
And while the injuries aren’t good news, Kovzel said some positives have resulted.
“Anytime you have seniors like Jimmy and Jacob go down it definitely hurts,” Kovzel said. “But again, even through the injuries some young guys were able to have an opportunity to step and gain some experience.”
With Carr developing into more of a dual-threat quarterback and Spann, his most reliable target, looking for a breakout season, Kovzel said the feel of his offense should be unlike what most of Ola’s familiar opponents have seen.
“We’re going to be more versatile this year,” he said. “We’re exploring some non-traditional elements in our offense. We’re not just going to be that three yards and a cloud of dust offense anymore.”
Ola faces just two teams who had a winning record in 2011, so the schedule is favorable. The talent that Kovzel believes he has is comparable to other more highly publicized schools. But Kovzel knows his Mustangs have an unfavorable image to shed.
“We are tired of being the ‘Schedule Ola for Homecoming’ team,” he said. “No one really knows about us since we’ve been 2-8. No one’s knocking our door down, and that’s fine. We know we’ll be underdogs in every game.”
But not in Carman’s mind.
“We want to be in the state playoffs,” he said. “We’ll play wherever we need to play and do whatever we need to do to get there. We’ve got the team to do it if we can just keep up our intensity.”